Podcast EP 002: Aiva Labs

In this episode of the VA Partners Startup Sales and Marketing Podcast, Randy Hendriks interviews co-founders Adnan Somani and Sarosha Imtiaz of Aiva Labs, as they explain their marketing campaign builder which builds overlays to increase website conversions.

(Please be advised, this is not a direct transcript and some sections have been edited and condensed.)

Randy: Welcome to the VA Partners Startup Sales and Marketing Podcast. I’m here with Adnan Somani and Sarosha Imtiaz from Aiva Labs. Welcome!

Sarosha: Thanks for having us here Randy.

R: So why don’t you start off by giving us a background on your company, Aiva Labs, and what you guys are working on?

Adnan: Sure. Aiva Labs is a machine learning company and we’re focused on creating an amazing experience that small businesses and agencies can use to engage their customers once they land on a website. Aiva itself is a marketing campaign builder that builds overlays that convince and convert visitors to take a useful action on a website, rather than leaving right away or leaving the site without doing anything useful for the website owner. We use artificial intelligence to automatically redesign and test these campaigns based on how users behave on the website.

R: So, could you give me an example?

S: For example, a campaign can start off with more contrast and an AI version can create something that has better contrast, and they can add a countdown to invoke a sense of urgency so users can buy something directly. A marketer can actually be able to do this as well but it will take them a lot of time to figure out what will work for a specific audience. But if a machine could do that, a marketer can create one version and let a machine do all the technical redundant work behind that.

R: So, you’re making a simple process for a company’s marketing team to be able to do it themselves. Or working with marketing agencies to set it up for different clients. Great. So, I know here in Hamilton you’ve recently won the Lions Lair competition. Tell us about that experience?

S: So, it was a great experience. For four months during the summer we participated in rigorous training programs and we learned a lot about how to effectively pitch on TV to a general audience and then we worked with the Innovation Factory and mentors from the Forge to develop our pitch. Since we’re a technology product, our greatest challenge was showcasing what we do without showing any technology on TV. We were really surprised because there was an amazing roster of companies in our competition and we were just ecstatic that we won.

R: Tell me about some of the prizes you won?

A: So, $20 000 in cash. Everyone loves cash! $10 000 of in-kind support from VA Partners, an amazing group of people that we’re really excited to work with! Support from marketing professionals at Jan Kelly will also be helping us out on market research, as well as KPMG for tax and other services they offer. So, we’re really excited about using all of those services as well as the free space at the Comotion incubator on King Street, and also the partnership with Hamilton Chamber of Commerce that will really help us expand into their network of small businesses, so we can help businesses in and everywhere with their website commerce.

R: So maybe you guys can explain to me some of the myths about inbound marketing?

A: I think one of the biggest myths is that a lot of people focus on the advertising portion of marketing and getting people to their site by driving more traffic, but traffic really is not that useful if you’re not converting them. At Aiva we concentrate heavily on building that seamless full experience that once people see an ad and are coming on the website, they have an experience that connects them to what they’ve seen before and the website can capitalize on the user’s interest and push them towards a sale or conversion.

S: Many people believe that conversion rate optimization is just collecting an email, but it can be anything from convincing them to buy something through showing a testimonial or even getting them to contact you. That’s a conversion as well. Or even getting them to engage with you on social media. Because if you’re increasing your awareness about your brand eventually they will come back. They will give you their email and they will ask about buying your service or product. And that’s one thing that we’ve seen, that many companies just focus on collecting emails right away. But sometimes it’s the place where you put the email collection technique. It needs to be the right process, and the right place or time to ask for their email. They might not be ready to do that.

A: Honestly we try to help them strategize whenever we can. We have some great partners who are experienced in Facebook marketing, Google Partners, and we’re always happy to bring knowledge to the table wherever we can. That being said, we don’t pretend to be the experts in that space. There are very well-versed players who are great at creating Facebook advertising and creating great Google ads to bring people to websites. What we do is we partner with these individuals and bring that experience to them through an agency where they’re able to provide more value to their clients directly through Aiva after they’ve done their specialty work getting people to the website.

S: As well, companies should follow the one-third rule for social media. One-third of the content should be just promoting your product. One-third of it should be promoting their own content that they create and house to share with their audience and one-third should just be recirculating other content in the industry that is relevant. So, that’s how you gain trust and gain more brand awareness because as well as sharing your own content, promoting your own product and partnering with other influencers or other people in the space, as a brand leader, you are sharing information and building a strong following which will drive traffic to your site.

R: What’s the next step for Aiva? What will AI look like in a couple of years from now as the tool develops?

A: So, it’s going to start out by being good at minimizing errors in the beginning, creating contrast as Sarosha talked about, putting in more things that invoke purchases or in getting sign-ups and likes, and AI will start to figure out what elements and colours work best for your website. I suppose it will also start changing copy. It will start using NLP, Natural Language Processing, to change the call to action. So, it can detect whether “sign up” or “sign me up” or “count me” gets better results. They all mean the same thing but one might potentially perform better for your audience. For a marketer to conceptualize and test all those different copy choices it can be time-consuming and resource intensive so it’s kind of arming your A/B testing to make it easier to test.

S: For example, Google tested forty-one different shades of blue on their site. How is any brand or marketer able to test all these different shades of just one color to test what works best? And that’s really the basis of why we created Aiva. To automate that process for marketers and help them focus on creating cool experiences.

R: Tell me more about your experience as a startup. Tell us a little bit about where you were coming from before you started Aiva?

S: So, while I was in my third year at McMaster two years ago, I wanted to get heavily involved in the medical innovation space and I was naturally looking for startups to get involved with. And I came across Adnan. He was at Communitech in Kitchener-Waterloo, and he had his own medical technology startup which was helping radiologists diagnose faster by drawing around their MRI and detecting brain tumors and aneurysms at a more efficient rate. We did the ‘Google for Entrepreneurs’ program and we were advised by the Google mentors to perhaps not start off with a medical since it would take a lot of time and money to commercialize it, but to find another application for the technology.

A: From there we took a step back and looked at how it applied to the publishing industry. We were talking to people like Vogue, who sold a lot of affiliate links through their images that they had on their site. We came up with an idea to let people just click on a picture to find out more information or to buy directly from an image. So, say I wanted to buy the shirt Randy is wearing, I would be able to just click on it get some more information and directly purchase it rather than leaving the site and creating a disruptive experience for the customer. But we’ve found from Vogue and other big players in the game that marketing and content people just don’t talk to large corporations. So, the marketing people would never be comfortable with what the content people wanted in the image and vice versa. So, the technology itself was great but the applications still needed some tweaking. The problem solution fit came when we learned from our Google advisors that they were testing 41 shades of blue like Sarosha had mentioned, and that kind of turned on the lightbulb. How is any website supposed to devote enough resources to figure out the minute details of what will work and what won’t? And that’s why we created a process to teach the AI tool, so we can eventually automate everything, and help all businesses by giving out a great product for free, collecting the design data which will in turn train our algorithms.

S: We started Aiva in Hamilton, because I was in my last year at McMaster at that point and I was working with my professors at Mac to discover the psychology behind web design, and factors around consumer behavior on websites. We developed multiple research papers and that’s where we learned about how to create our algorithms to effectively test what will work better for different audiences. We’re now working at the Forge, and we’re grateful for their help and that of Innovation Factory.

R: Those things are already in place now on your site, and now it’s just a matter of getting a thousand or ten thousand people using your tool, so the AI is going to get smarter and smarter?

S: Right now, it’s just trained on the basics of design principles but the more websites that start using it, it will get smarter and understand what’s going to work for different demographics or different websites, or where people are coming from. For example, if someone from North America sees a campaign with a red button they will react much differently than someone coming from Asia where the colour red stands for happiness and people are there are more likely to engage with that. People in North America think of it a sign of danger and hazard and we will deter away from it. A marketer can be able to create those campaigns, serving different audiences. It will require much more time and resources from a technical perspective. That’s why we wanted a machine that will be able to know where the audience is coming from or what color works better for a specific subset of an audience and can cater to them so they will buy an item.

A: The thing is, we don’t want to put this bias into the machine even though we know these facts exist. That is why we need to get that training data into the tool, and why we’re launching on the WordPress and Shopify store so we can get mass installs and we can let the machine learn by itself what works and what doesn’t. That’s also a reason why Aiva is free. That is, any small business that has less than 5000 unique visitors. We can empower small business to have the tools and analytics to be able to engage their audience. There’s also the pro account. It allows more traffic and we also create a free design for anyone on pro right now since we’re still getting started and that’s just to facilitate a smoother onboarding process, creating branding that suits the website, as well as amazing behavior-based triggers like hover-based campaigns and click-based campaigns. Someone could be clicking or hovering over a product and you could show them more information seamlessly through Aiva without any extra coding or development work.

S: One of the main differences between our tool and our competition is just from our builder perspective: ours is simple to use. We focus on creating good user experiences. And we’re focused on creating different experiences on your mobile or desktop. Our competition claims that they don’t believe conversions happen on mobile which is surprising because we have data that proves otherwise.

R: With the Aiva tool, and everything being trackable the numbers are right there, you can’t fake it. It’s either working or it isn’t, right? Do you have some examples of companies that have used the product?

A: Some of your listeners might be familiar with Sniper Skin, a former Lions Lair winner. We’ve worked with them for the last couple of months. In the beginning, we ran a video campaign for them which showed off their technology and asked people for an email address. It was pretty good, getting around 5 percent conversion. Better than what they were using before: a sumo bar on their website that didn’t get a single sign up. Turning on Aiva they were about to get 70 to 80 submissions in about a month with the video campaign. So then we took it to the next level: A giveaway contest that would essentially reward people who came on the website and entered their email with a chance to win their product as a giveaway. Their conversion has almost tripled since then, getting around 17 percent. Approximately one of every five people coming on the site actually entered their email before they left which is very very good.

R: Great results guys! Here at VA Partners we’re excited about what you’re doing and have already accomplished. Looking forward to do great things in the future! Thanks for listening to the VA Partners Startup Sales and Marketing podcast. If you have any questions or are looking to learn more about Aiva Labs, check out their website.